You don’t have to be a novelist to be a fun game-master. This point is worth remembering if you’re tempted to DM, but aren’t sure you have the time or creativity for the job.
And the point is particularly worth emphasizing right now. Thanks to the new edition of D&D, a lot of former gamers are returning to the hobby, and many others are trying it for the first time. Yet a lot of this potential growth stalls at a critical chokepoint: Every gaming group needs a DM, but anxieties about DMing often lead gamers to tread water while waiting for someone else to do it.
The anxiety is understandable: Most of us have known (or been) storyteller DMs who have long, plot-oriented campaigns—the kind that seem like they’re designed to be novelized or adapted to film. In some cases, the table may have looked like a miniature film set with intricately designed environments. I’ve had DMs hand me physical scrolls with calligraphy on them. But all of that stuff requires prep-work, and prep-work requires some sense of where the story is going — a script, so to speak.
Let’s call those kinds of games sagas.
A well-run saga is certainly cool. They can take a lot of work, though, particularly if you are a good enough game-master to allow players to make their own decisions within the story. If your saga has to assume the PCs might go either East or West, might side with the king or try to kill him, might take the treasure or leave it there, well, it may take a lot of time to set up that game, even if you have developed some good on-the-fly strategies.
The common assumption that DMing equals saga-writing deters many tabletop gamers from taking the role. They figure it’s a job for would-be novelists with lots of prep-time on their hands.
The good news is that a fun gaming session doesn’t have to be a saga.